Africa: conflicts and mining-induced displacement

"Mining-induced displacement ... was one of the most underreported causes of displacement in Africa, and one that was likely to increase, as mineral extraction remained a key economic driver in the whole region," was one of the conclusions of a official report by SADC, the Southern African Development Community, early 2006.

As in many other continents the horrors of land acquisition are experienced by mining-affected communities in a similar manner to – or perhaps even more severely than by – communities affected by the construction of dams and other big projects. When mining contracts are given, the immediate threat to local communities is displacement and land alienation (loss of property rights). These are inevitable features of large–scale mining. In Botswana, the displacement of the San people from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to open the park to large-scale diamond mining, was one such recent example.

In many countries – especially the more democratic ones – complex formal procedures exist for acquisition of lands and for obtaining mining contracts for exploration, prospecting and extraction. But in reality mining projects are almost always encouraged and the interests of the mining industries count for more than are protecting local communities or natural resources that exist in a mining area. The focus of economic reforms in African countries is reflected in policy changes on labour, land acquisition, forest conservation and environment protection that show in general an increasing disrespect on the part of the state and the armed forces towards the rights of communities. Mining has also multiplied the exploitation and degradation of women's rights. And rural women are completely lose access to land when the mines come. Testimonies of women from mining areas in Ghana show that displacement and loss of land were the most serious problems affecting their lives.

Prevailing land aquisition mechanisms in African countries give the state overriding powers to encroach on people's lands for any 'public purpose', including mining. In most cases, communities become aware of projects only at the time of eviction, when the bulldozers move in, often supported by a strong police presence.  When companies and governments give projections of mining project costs and estimated profits, therefore, it is crucial to analyse these from the perspective of such social and environment costs as: deforestation, pollution and other ecological destruction, people's displacement and loss of access to land, water bodies and forests, loss of livelihoods, exposure to health hazards, violence and abuse the transformation of villages into culturally degraded shanty towns, and the risks of accidents and disasters.

Just to give two examples of mining-induced displacements among so many others: the gold mining in Ghana and the illegal exploitation of diamonds and coltan[1] in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dirty gold from Ghana

'No Dirty Gold' was the name of a consumer campaign launched in 2004, by Earthworks/ Mineral Policy Center and Oxfam-US, intended to shake up the gold industry and change the way gold is mined, bought and sold. Consumers were asked to sign a pledge at the campaign website ( Most consumers don't realise that in African countries gold mining is associated with human rights abuses, and even imprisonment and death, along with severe environmental devastation. As part of the campaign, Earthworks and Oxfam-US released the report Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment which details the massive pollution, huge open pits, devastating community health effects, worker dangers and, in many cases, human rights abuses. The report also shows that mining does not produce wealth for the people but rather becomes a 'resource curse' for countries such as Guinea, Niger, Zambia and Togo – a two-fold curse for local communities, not only causing physical displacement but loss of their traditional livelihoods.  

In Ghana, West Africa, a country with extensive gold mines, the Ghanaian Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice issued a report in 2000 that found “overwhelming evidence of human rights violations occasioned by the mining activities, which were not sporadic, but a well-established pattern common to almost all mining communities”. Between 1990 and 1998, more than 30,000 people in the Tarkwa district were displaced by gold mining operations. "Our people have suffered beatings, imprisonment, and murder for standing up for our community rights against multinational mining companies," said Daniel Owusu–Koranteng, a mining activist from Tarkwa. An investigation by the Ghanaian community group WACAM (Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining) found evidence that between 1994 and 1997, AGC (Ashanti Goldfields Company) security personnel, acting in conjunction with the the Ghanaian police and the military, had killed three artisanal miners.[2]  In one incident in January 1997, 16 artisanal miners were severely beaten by AGC security personnel, and othes have been attacked by security guard dogs.

Even as a job source, mining is unsustainable. The destruction of the traditional employment base is followed by the loss of the mine itself. When ore deposits are ex-hausted, the jobs disappear. Most large – scale projects have a lifespan of between 10 and 40 years, after which the mining companies shut up shop and move on to new projects. Any schools, clinics, and other services established by the companies usually lose their funding. When this happens, the miners and communities are generally left to fend for themselves. Since mining is specialized employment, miners typically have few other marketable job skills.

More than in other African countries the Ghanaian civil society is involved in the struggle against human rights abuses at the hands of mining companies and state security agencies and has formed the National Coalition on Mining (NCOM) in solidarity with communities affected by mining. The Ghanaian government, however, has liberalised the mining sector in line with IMF and World Bank prescriptions and is attracting increased investment from transnational mining companies. This increase in foreign investment does not translated into increased employment or government revenue.  

Communities affected by mining have for many years recorded and reported affronts to their dignity and violations of their rights, especially social and economic rights. In 2006, NCOM listed specific instances of savage abuse of citizens' rights by mining companies, the police and the military. These include: violent, illegal arrest and detention of community members; torture of persons illegally arrested and detained; assault and battery (sometimes involving firearms and other deadly weapons) of youth accused of involvement in illegal mining or either trespass on mine property; interference with citizens' constitutional right to publicly protest against activities of mining companies that affect them negatively.  

“The repressive power of the state has increased", pointed out the Africa Initiative on Mining, Environment and Society (AIMES) in 2004: "The attitude and behaviour of the state and its institutions has been hostile towards its citizens who are determined to promote their interest and rights vis-à-vis that of transnational corporations. There are instances across Africa where we witness state repression through the use of private and state security against communities and citizens for expressing dissenting views or making legitimate demands. This attitude and behaviour of the state inhibits transparency and participation in extractive sector issues.”  In 2007 AIMES issued a warning against 'new' players on the African market: “Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa's extractive sector has significantly increased over the last few decades especially with the new entrants such as China, India, as well as the US involvement in the oil extraction in the Gulf of Guinea. The increase has not led to improvement in poverty reduction, environment protection, and respect for human rights in Africa; rather, there has been an increased deprivation of the people and governments of Africa to the benefits of mining. Key among these negative consequences are increased incidence of poverty, scarcity of environmental and livelihood resources, conflicts, gender disempowerment, violence and insecurity”.   

Blood diamonds and coltan in Congo

Most calls for legislative controls on the diamond trade have come from NGOs throughout the world, and especially those working to build peace in Africa. Although a legitimate diamond industry exists, increasingly attention is being paid to illicit trade and even, legal trade for illegal benefits. This is where the 'conflict diamond' debate emerged. Conflict diamonds are products whose trading financial benefits are immorally used to fuel the civil wars taking place in many countries in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is no exception. Rebel forces control some of the areas where diamonds are extracted and consequently, have become players in the mining game, extracting the diamonds, selling them illegally, and using the money to fund their insurgent activities.

As a result of the pressure, some controls have been attempted, among them, the UN Security Council's rulings on 'blood diamonds', which imposed sanctions against UNITA, a former rebel group in Angola accused of using diamond revenues to fund the Angolan civil war. Although it only addresses the problem in Angola, organisations campaigning to stop the trade of conflict diamonds are pressuring for the stipulations to be applied also to the DRC.

However, an even greater problem is the diamond mining industry and its illegal activities to finance the war. Most of the diamond mining in the DRC takes place in the eastern part of the country, which was for a long time controlled by the rebel factions with support from Uganda and Rwanda. The horrifying effects of this situation are the forced displacement of the Congolese people living in the mining areas, as well as the human rights abuses being committed. The perpetrators are not only the rebel groups in Nord-Kivu and Sud–Kivu, but also the government forces. Human rights violations include the killing of civilians, ill-treatment of detained per-sons, extrajudicial executions of prisoners, and recruitment of children as combatants. In fact, all sides have been accused of having commercial interests in this war due to the vast resources involved.

Human rights groups have argued that some multinational corporations from rich nations have been profiting from the war and have developed 'elite networks' of key political, military, and business elites to plunder Congo's natural resources. A number of companies and Western governments pressured a UN panel to omit details of shady business dealings in a report (October 2003). As reported by The Independent (London):

"Last October [2002], the panel accused 85 companies of breaching OECD standards through their business activities. Rape, murder, torture and other human rights abuses followed the scramble to exploit Congo's wealth after war exploded in 1998. For example the trade in coltan, a rare mineral used in computers and mobile phones, had social effects 'akin to slavery', the panel said. But no Western government had investigated the companies alleged to have links with such abuses. Some, including ones from the UK, US, Belgium and Germany, had lobbied to have their companies' names cleared from the 'list of shame' …  Some companies gave legitimate explanations for their business in Congo, or pu-lled out. But lawyers for others challenge the panel's findings, often capitalising on errors in earlier reports as proof of unreliability."

When the UN finally released the report at the end of October 2003, they listed approximately 125 companies and individuals listed that had been named in a previous report by the panel for having contributed directly or indirectly to war profiteering in the DRC. Other companies, the report noted, may not have been directly linked to conflict, but had more indirect ties to the main protagonists. Such companies benefited from the chaotic environment in the DRC. For example, they would obtain concessions or contracts from the DRC on terms that were more favourable than they might receive in countries where there was peace and stability.

Jan Van Criekinge


For further information on NCOM-Ghana, contact Environment Unit, Third World Network Africa, email: TWN Africa is the secretariat of NCOM.

Mining Watch Canada

The Geopolitical Stakes of the International Mining Companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by Pierre Baracyetse, a mining civil engineer, December 1999.

Declan Walsh, UN cuts details of Western profiteers from Congo report, The Independent, 27 October 2003

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